Words by Tshegofatso Senne

I discovered BDSM two years ago. I had spent years contemplating the corner of my mind that was curious about women who wore spandex and leather while wielding whips and tying men up against the walls of a dark dungeon.

I began watching bondage porn, reading blogs, asking questions on Twitter (yes, there are people who discuss such things on social media!) and exploring why this interested me so much. I discovered that what gave me pleasure was not wielding the whip but rather being at its mercy. I discovered I was a submissive.

If the only reference point you have of a sub (the common term used for a submissive) is Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey, think again. Fifty Shades is not BDSM. In fact, it goes against the core of BDSM, which is consent. There are instances in the book in which agreements are violated, where alcohol is used to sway consent and where the submissive is not taken care of. The fact that there are people who now base their knowledge of BDSM on a far-from-factual book and now movie, is dangerous. Being a submissive involves opening yourself up to being vulnerable. But if the person to whom you are relinquishing your control doesn’t prioritise your comfort and safety, you have a problem.

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So what to do if you are interested in exploring BDSM in a safe and consensual way? Here are some important lessons I’ve learned:

-Read up and question as much as you can. As I began my journey into BDSM, I read up on ‘spanking’, ‘choking’, ‘name-calling’ and ‘humiliation’ and all the things that, when done in a safe and consensual manner, now make me swoon. I absorbed everything I could, asking questions and learning from others. I began engaging with people on Twitter like @AwkwardlyH, @KinxD_sse and @kinkyButterfli and reading blogs such as Thekinkrealm.com and Submissiveguide.com. These helped me discover a community of kinky feminist women. I also read the erotic novel The Story of O by Pauline Réage and began to understand how important my own pleasure was.

-Talk to your partner. Ask yourself what it is about BDSM that you would like to explore and be honest about your desires with your partner. I dropped a hint during sex by asking my partner to spank me. Afterwards we chatted and I was grateful for his willingness to trying new things and ecstatic when he came to love BDSM as much as I did.

Remember that being submissive in bed doesn’t make you submissive in other areas of your life. The more I explored kink, the more I came to understand that deriving pleasure from being submissive was not a bad or negative thing. As long as sex was consensual and didn’t harm anyone else, I was entitled to explore all the aspects of it that turned me on. I became comfortable verbalising what I wanted in bed. No longer did I think, jeez, Tshego, you’re disgusting, when I said that I wanted to be gagged and spanked, for example. The more you understand your body and learn what you enjoy, the easier it will be to guide your partner there.

Be aware of your limits. The dom takes on the responsibility of keeping you safe, but you’re the one who determines your limits. Pleasing someone should not come at the expense of your own pleasure and safety and you should never feel coerced into doing something you are not comfortable with. Run through acts in your mind that you think you’d be OK with trying but are perhaps not ready to yet. These are your ‘soft limits’ and could be anything from sex with more than one partner to being slapped. Then consider the acts that are in the red no-go zone – for me, this includes being branded. It is essential to agree on safe words and gestures with your partner to alert them to that your limits. ‘Red’, ‘orange’ and ‘green’ work because they are universal. Or use gestures such as small fast pinches to let him know when you’ve reached your limit.

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